Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Nine baggers from Kroger stores in Georgia take a break from the competition during a Kroger celebrity round in the Bag-off Championships at Kroger in Dacula on Wednesday.
DACULA -- The crowd swelled, inching its way through check-out lines brimming with glistening packs of bubble gum and beef jerky. With inked posterboards held high, the group of more than 100 leaned in close to the action as a well-dressed man with a big, red microphone stoked the enthusiasm.
"This is pretty intense," said Johnny Brown, master of ceremonies at the Kroger annual Bag-Off competition in Dacula. "Pretty intense indeed."
Store Operations Manager Kathie Nance-Askey explained the rules as the competitors listened: "It's all about speed, weight distribution and proper bagging techniques. Are you smashing things? No cans on cans. No glass hitting glass."
Added Nance-Askey: "When you start, always build your walls. You want the bag to be able to stand on its own in the trunk."
Brown nodded his head. "That's right," he said. "Speed is not everything. Customers hate it when their bags flip over in the car. Yeah they do ... yeah they do."
Three young men in blue shirts stood at the end of three aisles. Before them: a wide array of dairy products, canned food, liquids, paper towels and dry goods. They were among nine competitors from across Georgia vying for the title in Wednesday's statewide contest judging the fastest, most efficient and tactical baggers around.
Kroger Bag-Off competition
Nine baggers from Kroger stores in Georgia competed for the chance to advance to national competitions in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Brown quieted the crowd as he held one hand in the air: "on your marks, get set, bag!"
Their hands a flurry of speed, they attacked the grocery items with ferocity, depositing each in a strategic place inside plastic bags.
When it was all said and done, a young man named Alex Morton from Dallas took first place, racking up the most points for his skills.
But two Gwinnett County residents competing put up a good fight: Ligia Raileanu, 15, of Loganville, and Emanuel Tosa, 17, of Buford.
Tosa said he stuck to the basics: "I just practiced my form and focused on how I made the bag, because I knew for a fact that in the moment I would automatically go really fast. I made it a habit to build walls ... and I figured the speed would just kind of come to me naturally."
And by "building walls" he meant building a perimeter inside each bag with boxed goods.
Paper towels, Tosa said, are tough. "They take up a lot of room. You have to really watch those," he said.
Raileanu said she had the placement of food products down. "All I could think is 'go fast, fast, fast,'" she said. "I kept all the frozens in one bag, building the walls, cans in the middle, light things on top, and the eggs ... you have to be careful. If you put them in upside down, that's bad news."
While they didn't make it to the next round, both Gwinnettians said they had a good time.
For his first-place victory on Wednesday, Morton will receive $750 in scholarship money as well as an all-expense-paid trip to compete next month in Orlando, Fla.
Kroger Director of Communications Glynn Jenkins called Wednesday's Bag-Off "a unique, action-packed competition. The spirit and enthusiasm displayed by our contestants is what makes this a must-see event every year."